All your dreams can come true if you have the courage to pursue them. And the way to get started is to quit talking and begin doing.
Over the years, Angel and I have had the privilege of working with dozens of extremely successful people. The key thing that separates them from the crowd is their unwavering self-discipline to actually get the right things done.
I’m betting you have stuff you want to do — stuff you know you should be doing. But it doesn’t get done. Why? You need to go from dreaming to doing… but it’s difficult to get going.
You want to excel more at work, get better grades, learn a new skill, get those six-pack abs, or spend more quality time with your family… but it’s not happening. Instead you just procrastinate.
So what can help get you going when you’re not motivated to achieve your longer-term goals? What’s the secret?
Angel and I have observed a simple four-step process repeated consistently in the habits and routines of the most successful people we know.
The first step, believe it or not, is dreaming. We’re all pretty good at that — but it’s only part of the process. In fact, if you do it wrong it can actually make things worse. Here’s how to do it right…
1. Dream (But Don’t Stop There)
Everything starts with a dream. But if that’s all you do, you’re in serious trouble.
Also, having a positive attitude is an explicit requirement, because a negative attitude makes us more likely to quit — or to never even begin in the first place.
But when that positive attitude becomes a constant habit of fantasizing, things go south really quick. Yes, that’s right, tirelessly dreaming about success is not constructive.
Again and again (somewhat to our surprise at first), our course members and coaching clients have had the same negative outcomes from over-fantasizing about what they want. Big fantasies, wishes and dreams detached from real life experience (action) never translates into the necessary motivation to create a more energized, engaged life. It translates into the opposite — more procrastination.
Why? The inexperienced, emotional human brain just can’t tell the difference between fantasy and reality.
When you fantasize, certain parts of your brain think you’ve actually achieved your goal. So rather than ramping up, motivation actually pulls back. From what we’ve experienced through coaching thousands of people over the past decade, the main reason positive fantasies often predict poor achievement is because they do not actually generate enough energy to pursue the desired outcome. They don’t get people out of their chairs!
Too much dreaming turns positive thinking into mere wishful thinking.
So if it doesn’t work, why in the world do we do it so often? Plain and simple: it feels good.
Just like stuffing your face with chocolate cake or checking your email for the 70th time today, it feels good in the moment — but is counterproductive to long-term success.
Constant dreaming about success in the future seems to protect our egos against sadness in the short-term, but then promotes sadness over the long-term if that’s all we do. Because lofty expectations are being built but aren’t being backed by any substantial means to get from point A to point B.
Want to lose weight? Those who merely dream of looking thinner often lose significantly less weight than those who envision themselves gaining weight if they don’t take deliberate and immediate action.
Want to meet that special someone? The more frequently our course members and coaching clients have admitted to indulging in positive fantasies, the less likely they reported initiating a real relationship.
Okay, you get the idea. Dreaming by itself leads to nowhere worthwhile. So, what are the missing steps?
2. Aim for a specific outcome.
This part isn’t too difficult. You just need to take your dream and crystalize it. Be ultra-specific.
So if “making more money” is your dream, your desired outcome might be “get a raise at my next annual performance review.”
Dreaming of a better work-life balance? Your outcome could be “A daily work schedule that allows me to be free every afternoon at 4 P.M. sharp and off during weekends.”
(For more on setting goals and actually achieving them, check out Getting Back to Happy.)
So your dream is now clear. But this is when things get trickier and a bit more unconventional. It’s time to be constructively negative…
3. Visualize your obstacles ahead of time.
We call this “mental contrasting.” You need to consciously think about the obstacles that could potentially prevent you from achieving your desired outcome.
This might seem counterintuitive at first, but it’s a strategy that works wonders. And here’s what’s really interesting: As we’ve used this method in our coaching practice over the years, some people who do this get more focused almost instantly, while others end up less motivated in the short-term.
Does that mean this strategy is defective? No, it means it’s truly working. Here’s why:
The people who do not get a boost of focus are often the ones who realize the “specific outcome” they are aiming for is not specific enough or simply not reasonable – meaning they’re aiming for a goal too big and overwhelming for their current mindset.
So this mental contrasting doesn’t only motivate people to get the right things done, it also helps them break their bigger long-term goals into achievable shorter-term goals that they can wrap their minds around and get excited about, right now. So…
- When people visualize their obstacles and realize they have a good chance of overcoming them (“I want to get a raise this year”), motivation increases.
- Those who visualize their obstacles and realize their goals are too lofty and not specific enough (“I want to make a billion dollars this week”) report less motivation.
The latter are deterred from dreaming the wrong dream again and again, and so they tighten up their focus and don’t waste any more of their time. Thus, outcomes for both groups that use mental contrasting are positive.
The bottom line is that to be successful, we have to envision what could go wrong, and what will inevitably go wrong, in advance, before we begin. Far too many ambitious people fail for easily preventable reasons. Far too many people don’t have a well-thought-out backup plan because they refuse to consider something might not go exactly as they dreamed it would.
Today, this strategy not only helps entrepreneurs close billion dollar business deals, it saves lives. Prior to my career in personal development and life coaching, I spent a decade working for the U.S. Marine Corps. One thing I learned from the high-ranking officers I worked for: They spend a vast majority of their mission training time going over every possible mistake or catastrophe that could happen during the mission. Every possible error is mercilessly examined and linked to a suitable reaction: If the aircraft is hit and losing altitude, we’ll do X. If we are forced to make an emergency landing in enemy territory, we’ll do Y. If we are outnumbered on the ground, we’ll do Z.
(For more on using “obstacle visualization” to improve decision-making, read Decisive: How to Make Better Choices.)
So now you know your obstacles and you’re ready to take the next step…
4. Use self-inquiry to build actionable “if-then” responses for overcoming your obstacles.
Mental contrasting is so helpful because it directly weighs dreams against realities. It basically stress-tests your desired outcomes. In other words, questioning your dreams leads to insights about how to proceed with them in the real world.
The bottom line is that while thinking positive is important, it’s also important to ask questions that help you actually build a plan for making real progress.
So rather than just saying something positive like, “I will lose weight,” start with a question like “Can I lose weight?” (and this question leads to other obvious questions, like “How?”)
Seems like a small difference, but questions are powerful tools. They make you realistically consider the problem and what’s truly required. From my experience, those who use this kind of self-inquiry for goal setting always outperform those who employ the more conventional positive affirmation sort of self-talk.
Questioning your dreams helps build actionable plans. And actionable plans help you be more productive, and eventually bring your dreams to reality.
So what’s the best way to make sure your actionable plan addresses your obstacles?
Create little “if-then” responses to all the (known) challenges you face.
For instance, a simplified bit of self-inquiry might go something like this:
- Can I lose weight? Yes.
- How? Skip dessert after dinner. And…
- “IF I’m eating out and others are ordering dessert, THEN I will just order a coffee.”
Makes sense, doesn’t it? Simple, but a little different.
Successful people are successful because they take action. They are taking action right now. And YOU can be one of them.
So take the four steps above and start working through them. Yes, right now! Reading is not doing!
Just like watching Shark Tank doesn’t make you an entrepreneur, reading about what successful people do doesn’t make you a success unless you follow in their footsteps.
You want to go from dreamer to do-er? Try it now:
- What do you dream of achieving?
- What does the specific outcome of your success look like?
- What obstacles are standing between you and where you want to be?
- When an obstacle arises, what will you do about it? “If _____ happens, then I will ______.”
And then take action!
Can you see how this strategy takes a simple dream and puts you on a path to achieving it? I’m hoping you’re nodding your head up and down.
But again, blog posts can’t change your life. Only YOU can. Now go DO IT!
The floor is yours…
I’ll help start you off… Tell me:
What do you dream of achieving? What are you going to do about it today?
Leave a comment below and let me know.